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A Culture Within a Culture: DEAF Haiti

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Posted by Angela Maria Nardolillo on 10/16/14

For several years, I have been traveling to various countries bringing supplies and support to the Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing (HOH) and CODAs ([Hearing] Children of Deaf Adults). In May of 2013, International Deaf Emergency (IDE) invited me to bring the same kind love to Haiti. Rewind back to 2010, Haiti lost ~300,000 people and displaced ~2.3 million others due to a 7.0 earthquake. That same year, IDE was established in order to provide secure housing and basic resources for hundreds of Deaf refugees and their families.

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Varying from 3rd world to developing countries, basic resources can be extremely hard to come by. Parts of Haiti are not of your typical 3rd world, rather an ongoing natural disaster relief effort due to the extreme lack of food and water (rain) and no general system in place, such as a government to protect and provide for the people. Under these already brutal conditions, the Deaf in Haiti suffer more as some have little to no spoken/sign language; access to Humanitarian relief efforts go to the Hearing as notifications are transmitted verbally via radio/loud speaker; sexual abuse/violence is widespread and unfortunately with no effort by the police to interact with the Deaf, there is no support for the women and children. The list goes on…

2-300x199My mission to Haiti was unlike any of my previous missions where expenses came solely out of my own pocket. With the growing support by those who follow my travel blog Angela Maria Off The Grid, I was able to raise educational supplies, hygiene care and 300 search and rescue “Whistles for Life” rape whistles. I also focused on gathering “sustainable” athletic equipment with the ability to entertain a large range of individuals which included raising 14 One World Futbols!

The supplies reached TRIPLE the amount of people that I had originally planned for, spread-out in different locations in Haiti: 3 Deaf schools, 1 Deaf orphanage, 2 Deaf dormitories, 1 Deaf church and various Deaf communities -including refugees in the tent city of Port Au Prince and IDE’s newly established Deaf community in Leveque. 2+ futbols made it to each location and was split amongst the boys and girls. The languages constantly varied amongst French, Créole Haitian (Kreyòl Ayisyen), Haitian Sign Language (HSL) and American Sign Language (ASL).
Every time a futbol was received, they attempted to pop, smash and deflate the “indestructible” futbol. I noticed the Deaf and CODA girls were reluctant to play because “it was a boys sport”. The Haitians had even warned me that the ‘thoughtful -yet absurd’ idea to include girls to play was simply not going to succeed. However, I had my own background as a Right Forward in Division III soccer during college so I was a bit stubborn to believe otherwise! During my visit to a Deaf orphanage, I stood alone kicking around a futbol in the open field.. the girls would not join me because they said they did not know how to play. So, I continued to kick the ball, smirking and waiving at them as they sat quietly acting like they were more engaged in braiding one another’s hair. One by one they joined me and learned how to kick and run with the ball. By the time I left, about 15 girls were running barefoot over the boys.

The One World Futbol does not only entertain and motivate the Deaf, HOH and CODA to play and learn together, it also breaks language barriers with the surrounding Hearing communities; something so rarely if at all, seen in Haiti.

On a personal note, I feel it is not only about providing support and empowerment to international Deaf communities, but giving back to those who support these missions by providing Deaf Culture awareness and bridging the local communities to other Deaf, HoH, Hearing and CODAs worldwide.

Each of my Off The Grid experiences is a powerful reminder of the human spirit and that is why I believe the reward will always be greater than the risk.

IG & Twitter: @angelagmariaOTG